Several months ago I was approached to write an article for Fiat Lux.
Word had it, I was told, that back "When" (in my case that was 1954-58) I had driven "The Car."
If that means that my car would be worth a lot of money if I still had it, then that's true. However, this applies to most of my crowd. Driving around UCR today, one can't tell faculty and staff vehicles from those owned by students. But in my day things were quite different. With almost no exceptions, we drove extraordinarily unreliable cars, regardless of what they might be worth today.
Actually, as a freshman I only had a car for a few months. It was on loan, and was a 1946 Ford Sportsman convertible. For those of you who don't know cars, that was the "woodie" convertible, with wooden sides and trunk, much like the station wagons of the day. The friend who loaned it to me was at a school where students weren't allowed to have cars, so I had the use of it. He offered to sell it to me for $100, but I didn't have that much money.
Anyhow, it wasn't in perfect shape. A roommate, Bobby Dodds, borrowed the car one day and the roof ripped off during a drive down 8th Street (now University Avenue). I gave the car back to my friend and he sold it for $100. I recently saw a restored one in Hemmings Motor News for $90,000.
After my freshman year, I worked at the UCLA hospital for the summer, lived at home, saved my money and bought my first car. It was a 1948 Lincoln convertible and it cost $300. Due to a leak and the cost of hydraulic fluid, I only put the top and windows down once for summer and up once for winter. It was beautiful, with leather seats, a push button under the carpet to change radio stations and overdrive.
However, it wasn't very sensible as a student's car. It weighed well over 2 tons and I had to block up the axle and dig a hole under the tire to fix a flat, because it broke every jack my friends and I tried to use to lift it. It also was a V-12, so spark plugs were a major purchase.
Sometimes it ran, sometimes it didn't.
In 1956, I somehow got tickets to the world premier of the movie musical "The King and I" at Graumann's Chinese Theater in Hollywood. I took my girlfriend and some family members to that fancy event in the Lincoln. We thought we fit in with the movie crowd okay. The last '48 Lincoln convertible I saw in Hemmings went for about $75,000.
After my sophomore year, my older brother took a fancy to my Lincoln. He had a much plainer but better running 1937 Chevrolet, so we traded. The Chevy was very dependable and I drove that car for several years.
On a honeymoon trip up past Crowley Lake it boiled 14 times in one day. But mostly it ran very well. It was black, had an Earl Scheib paint job that cost $29.95 and very nice Naugahyde seats installed by my brother. As far as I know, compared to my first two cars, it isn't particularly collectible, but it ran a whole lot better.
There were a few very good student-owned cars on campus.
Kenny Lynch ('57) had a brand new 1956 Ford Thunderbird, a two-seater with a spare tire mounted on back. Very fancy.
Kenny and his sister inherited the Lake Theater movie house in Lake Elsinore, when their parents passed away, so Kenny had more available money than most of us. Also, Danny Goodcase ('58) had a 1955 Chevy Bel-Aire hardtop convertible, white over turquoise, an absolutely fabulous car. I was very envious of that car, which is very collectible today.
One fellow, whose name I've forgotten, didn't have a room or anything, but lived in his car, an old Plymouth. He took out one seat, put a sleeping bag in its place and hung a Coleman lantern so he could read at night. In the evening, he would cruise up to the foothills and sleep there. He showered in the gym but wasn't really a terribly tidy person.
It might interest today's students to know that parking was free on campus. You just asked for a permit for the lot you wanted. I worked all during college as a student assistant in periodicals in the library, so I always parked across from the dock behind the old library. Very central, very handy.
On the other hand, gas was about 20 cents per gallon and hamburgers were a quarter, so I guess there have been many more significant changes than parking problems. Registration fees and other related costs totaled about $30 per semester, so that's up a bit, too.
I hope these minor recollections have been of interest to someone. If anyone spots a misrecollection or a mistake, keep it to yourself.
That is what I remember.
Charles D. Field graduated from UCR in 1958 with a degree in sociology. He went on to complete law school at UCLA and is now a Riverside County superior court judge. Charles D. Field